Die Hard (1988) Review

Spread the love

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Die Hard (1988): 10 out of 10: Bruce Willis (Yes, the guy from the wine cooler commercials) decides to be an action star with an otherwise unknown cast.

The Good

The Good: I often lump Die Hard with Alien and Jaws because they all respectively created a new genre in and of themselves. (Die Hard but on a boat, for example). The other reason I lump Die Hard in with Alien and Jaws is because, like those other films, Die Hard is an incredibly well crafted film. This is a fact one can easily forget if one has not seen the film in a while. Go ahead watch it. Die Hard really is that good.

Director John McTiernan is not afraid to be subtle. (My favorite is when obnoxious eighties caricature Hart Bochner is negotiating with head terrorist Alan Rickman. He clearly asks for coke (possibly offscreen) and the terrorists bring him a CocaCola, which they ceremoniously pour for him instead of the cocaine he is so clearly jonesing for.

Another example of an extremely tight screenplay is the seemingly silly conversation at the start of the film that Bruce Willis has on the plane with a fellow passenger who suggests that to relax in a stressful new environment Willis should take off his shoes and curl his toes in the carpet. Which is both subtle and possibly unintentional commentary on the Japanese culture he is visiting. It is also a great device to make sure that Willis is shoeless for most of the movie (Shoot the glass).

Die Hard is a lot smarter and finely tuned than it needed to be. It is why it still holds up so well after all this time, while the endless copycats (And if we are to be honest, the sequels as well) don’t hold up nearly as well.

The Bad

The Bad: It is good that Die Hard is such a good movie because there is some bad in it. Some of it can be explained away as well… it is an eighties film. And Die Hard is a film of its time. (People smoke in the airport, Bruce Willis carries his service revolver on the plane, there is an entire meta commentary about the Japanese taking over everything and the fact that the main groups are Japanese and German respectfully may certainly go over the heads of modern audiences. Heck, even the MacGuffin bearer bonds are basically a thing of the past. (All the bearer bonds issued by the US Treasury had matured as of May 2016. The amount outstanding is approximately $87 million, as of March 2020.))

The eighties attitude and cynicism is harder to hide, however. The trope that the people in charge do not know what they are doing and only our guys are knowledgeable is very much alive and well in Die Hard. It would be the trope codifier if 1984’s Ghostbuster’s Walter Peck had not taken that trophy. (And for the record, Peck was right. Yes, that is a hill I will die on).

Cop in charge, Dwayne T. Robinson, is also kind of right. The movie paints him as an obstructionist butt-monkey, but he is not wrong. Fat desk jockey cop Reginald VelJohnson doesn’t have any idea who he is talking to. VelJohnson doesn’t know if Bruce Willis is a terrorist, a hero, or a crackpot. The movie creates this artificial tension where everyone is cold and rude to each other, which in reality is not how most teams work together (And rarely how the chain of command works either). It takes an even sillier turn when the two Johnsons from the FBI show up.

I am not saying people and organizations cannot be this dysfunctional. (No one is accusing the late-eighties LAPD of being a touchy feely functional place to work). What I am saying is that it is unnecessary for the plot of the movie and sticks out like a sore thumb. It is lazy screenwriting in a movie that is otherwise sharp as a tack.

The Ugly

The Ugly: Speaking of things from the eighties that have not aged well at all. Reginald VelJohnson’s feel good character arc would raise more than a few eyebrows in screenwriting class today.

You see, Reginald was on desk duty because he lost his ability to shoot suspects. One night, he shot what he thought was a gun wielding terrorist but turned out to be a little kid with a toy gun. Was he fired? Arrested? No, of course not, he was stuck on desk duty. Not for shooting the kid, mind you, but because he felt he could no longer shoot people. (And therefore was a danger to his fellow officers by leaving people unshot). The movie ends with Reginald shooting someone dead there by proving he is once again LAPD material. Yeah, the eighties were a very long time ago people.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: People forget that Bruce Willis was a very unlikely action star when he got this role. Basically, it would be the equivalent of giving the President’s role in Air Force One to Matthew Perry in 1997. The only actual equivalent I can think of is Michael Keaton, in 1989’s Batman. (Which also worked out much better than expected.)

Die Hard is one of the best films of its time and holds up extremely well today. Well worth the rewatch. Particularly at Christmas.

I now see where Del Boca Vista got its condo directory.
I usually praise the use of miniatures in films like this. But I am going to have to give this one a pass. On the other hand, this would make a kicking Warhammer 40,000 table.
Most CEOs I know have a password that consists of the word Password with a 0 instead on the O
De’voreaux White and his co-star for most of his scenes.
Every time I watch Die Hard, I think this guy is a very young Jon Hamm.
They are trying to make the CEO into a secret badass. Which actor James Shigeta certainly would have been if he flew at Pearl Harbor when he was twelve. Kind of a cross of the “everyone was in the war” trope and the “you don’t know who this guy is” trope where the quiet lumberjack, whose house you just burned down and family you just killed is an ex-navy seal. But of course he is.
I just wanted to point out the Christmas decorations on the right. Die Hard is filled with perfunctory holiday cheer.
Really, the unsung hero of the movie is the character, played brilliantly by the late Kip Waldo, who rings up Reginald VelJohnson’s twinkies.
Al Leong with some unsubtle product placement for the concession stand.
Hey bu…bee…I have to confess I absolutely love the inclusion of this character. With all the irritating tropes involving the incompetent cops outside, he is a breath of fresh air. (Though after Uvalde, the cops in Die Hard seem like proactive action stars.)
Well, we have some Christmas cheer, some really ugly photos of kids, the coke can that our terrorist humorously gave Hart Bochner, and the delightful Alan Rickman with his little silver pistol in his first movie role.
And Robert Davi has arrived. An eighties film can now officially begin.
Grand L. Bush as Robert Davis’ FBI partner (The are called Big Johnson and Little Johnson. I see you Die Hard) is also a lot of fun.
This is most of Paul Gleason’s scenes. Yelling into a phone or walkie talkie. In fact, a lot of Die Hard comprises various characters talking into walkie talkies.
So this is the end of the movie? Nope. Though points to Alan Rickman. I am sure the British actor’s head exploded a bit when he was asked to do German faking a bad American accent.
Well, surely this is the end of the movie? Surprisingly again no. The bad guys apparently switched to Queensbury rules when we were not looking.
Much has been made that Bruce Willis character was an everyman who bleeds rather than the standard 80’s action star who doesn’t have time to bleed, such as Jesse Ventura in Predator or Schwarzenegger in Commando, who might as well be a nigh invulnerable cartoon. Much as Nirvana replaced Glam Rockers a few years later, Willis changed what an action star should be in Die Hard.
Speaking of Commando. Die Hard is still an eighties film. This screenshot could have been right out of Commando and no one would blink an eye.
The character on the right threatened to turn into comic relief/ fat best friend. But thankfully that never materialized.
What in the hell am I looking at here? It looks like Bruce Willis is fighting Dr. Zaius. Are they both wearing masks from the Planet of the Apes?

I knew if I watched long enough I would get a good helicopter sequence.
Alas, the helicopters are not long for Die Hard.
Again Die Hard is a very eighties film.
Bonnie Bedelia is seven years older than Bruce Willis, but it really works in the film. Makes her more believable as an independent woman who doesn’t need him and as a business executive. Still, there is a chemistry between them. (The sequels really drop the ball on this, among other things.)
Al Leong honestly would not be out of place at most New York newspaper stands. Let’s see what is in the news today? State issues Prop 65… Prop 65??? Okay, prepare for a not so mini rant. Prop 65 was a very California idea that any product that had cancer-causing chemicals had to be labeled as such. Sounds good on the surface. It also gave individuals the ability to sue if they bought an item or had an experience that exposed them to a cancer-causing agent that was not disclosed.

You can see where this is going. Much like the American with Disabilities Act or copyright law, an entire industry sprung up. Proposition 65 complaints are filed on behalf of straw man plaintiffs by private attorneys, some of whose businesses are built entirely on filing Proposition 65 lawsuits. So the law was mainly used for the benefit of shyster lawyers and against California Business. From 2000 to 2020, businesses paid more than $370 million in settlements, with almost three quarters of that amount going to attorneys, and the majority of that going to a small group of perpetual litigants.

Part of the problem is everything is a suspected carcinogen. The current list of potentially harmful substances is over 900 and includes everything from Diesel fuel (which most people don’t ingest), alcohol which people do, and caffeic acid IE coffee. Now I know that studies show pretty universally that coffee, for example, is good for you, but it’s on the naughty list. So if you are a business or restaurant or theme park facing predatory lawsuits for selling vegan leather or a cup of joe, what do you do? You label everything within an inch of its life.

So everything in California is now plastered with “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.” People in California after thirty years completely ignore it and people outside of California when they receive a product that has the warning label meant for California naturally freak out. (But my vegan leather shoes are all natural).

But at least California has a lot less cancer than everyone else. Right?… Right?

Now California, realizing this is a big joke and a disaster for their businesses, naturally reformed the law…checks notes… thirty years later. So it is a bit better on the lawsuits side, but the labels are still required for business that have cell phones, use trucks to deliver goods or serve coffee. So whose fault is this? Well, among others Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda.

Now Jane Fonda has been blamed for a lot of things. The spread of communism in southeast Asia, Global Warming (The China Syndrome), and not talking Lily Tomlin out of making 1978’s Moment by Moment. And some of these are unfair. But Proposition 65? That’s on her.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments